One thing Jim Quigley is not short of is confidence. The president of Latin America at Bank of America Merrill Lynch believes that the newly merged firm is well placed to win business as capital markets and investment banking activity begin to pick up.
It has not been an easy time for Merrill Lynch’s Latin American unit. Ever since BofA announced its acquisition of the investment bank in September, rumours have been rife about its plans for the region, from which it has been distancing itself over the past few years. Quigley, though, is keen to stress the new management’s commitment.
"When the integration came there was a heightened suspicion about whether we’d convince Bank of America to commit to Latin America," he says. "In fact we are adding products and businesses to our platform."
Merrill Lynch was present in seven countries in the region, which contributed about 6% of the bank’s revenues in 2007 to reach $1.4 billion. Far from pulling back, BofA is keen to build. "We’re looking at the region product by product," says Quigley, adding: "The bank is committed and we will grow."
Quigley is especially excited about the potential to combine Merrill’s capital markets and investment banking business with BofA’s balance sheet. "The new model is much more powerful than the Merrill Lynch toolkit was nine months ago," he says, although how powerful remains to be seen as BofA continues to struggle because of the banking crisis. In the recent stress tests carried out by federal regulators, the US government said BofA needed to raise tier 1 common capital by $33.9 billion.
Some rival bankers doubt the strength of the newly merged business. "Merrill Lynch has lost focus, direction and good people," says one. In Mexico, where there was the most overlap, several senior bankers have departed, including Carlos Gutierrez, who was Latin America chairman; Alberto Ardura, former country head; and Patrick Cassereau, a debt specialist.
Quigley says the exodus has been exaggerated. "Our headcount in Mexico has doubled since the integration to a couple of hundred, despite a few losses," he says, and stresses the promotions of Orlando Loera as country head and Pedro Giral as head of fixed income, currencies and commodities as strong signals of the bank’s intent.
He adds: "We have a strong banking model in Mexico and have made tremendous progress in expanding our investment banking and lending operations there."